Percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming and that it is caused by human activity; percentage who say global warming is a very or somewhat serious problem, 4-7 October 2012. Graphic: The Wall Street Journal

25 January 2013

(The Wall Street Journal) – Climate change is back on the agenda in Washington after President Barack Obama's call to action in his second inaugural address. And while polls suggest that public belief that manmade causes are behind warmer temperatures isn't yet back to the levels seen in the middle of the last decade, concern about climate change is recovering from the economic collapse of 2008-09, which buried the issue under economic worries.

Among the significant divides in public attitudes is age. In an October poll by the Pew Research Center, younger respondents showed the highest agreement with the view that warming is manmade and that it is a "very serious" problem. Only 28% of respondents 65 and over thought there was solid evidence the earth was warming because of human activity, versus 42% overall.

For climate-change campaigners and politicians in Washington, those demographics could be significant. As more young people—even those who are conservative on other issues—side with those who believe in manmade global warming, it could be easier to find the votes for aggressive action on the climate in Congress, although immediate moves appear unlikely.

Ben Lowe, one of the founders of an activist network called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, shows how the issue influences a traditional bastion of Republican support.

Mr. Lowe, 28 years old, came from a long line of Republicans. But rising temperatures have been especially hard to avoid for him and his peers. "No one under 28 has experienced a cooler-than-average month," he said. "Global warming is all we've ever known."

Wisconsin native Kelsie Wendelberger knocked on doors to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker in his recall fight, and she said she considers herself conservative. "But it's prudent to manage climate risk," said the 20-year old sophomore at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois.

She said that from a cost-benefit standpoint, it pays to address climate change. "Look at the numbers," she said. "It would have been better not to have to spend so much on recovery" after superstorm Sandy and other recent events. [more]

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